‘Cosa’ and ‘Quale’: The Difference 

Because the interrogative word “Quale?” is sometimes translated into English as “Which?” and sometimes with What?, it’s frequently confused with Cosa?, Che? or Che cosa? which are more common translations of What

Cosa? = What?

Cosa is the default What? for interrogative questions when they are followed by a verb.

  • Cosa ascolti? – What are you listening to?
  • Cosa studierai dopo? – What are you going to study later? 
  • Cosa pensi di questo film? – What do you think about this movie? 

In any of the previous questions Cosa? can be replaced by Che cosa? o Che?.

As a result, the following three questions all mean the same. 

  • Cosa ascolti? – What are you listening to?
  • Che cosa ascolti? – What are you listening to?
  • Che ascolti?  – What are you listening to?

Cosa? and Che cosa? are both synonyms of Che? (when followed by a verb).  It is a matter of regional preference whether to use one or the other. Cosa?, I believe, is more common in the north of Italy than in the south, for example.

In the following types of questions, Che can also be followed by a noun, but Cosa? and che Cosa che? can never be followed by a noun.

  • Che piatto è questo? – What dish is this? 
  • Che lavoro fai? – What do you do for a living? 
  • Che caffè bevi? – What coffee are you drinking? 

We can’t use Che cosa? or Cosa? with nouns though.

  • Che cosa piatto è questo? (WRONG
  • Cosa lavoro fai? (WRONG
  • Cosa caffè bevi? (WRONG

Quale? / Qual?= What?

Quale means What? when is followed by the verb to be (è, sono), any other verb or a noun, if it’s used to refer to a limited choice or items of the same group (e.g. type of foods, cities, songs, etc…).  

  • Quale vino preferisci?  – What’s your favorite wine? 
  • Quale formaggio preferisci? – What’s your favorite cheese? 

Qual è” is a very common chunk to ask questions what’s your favorite “x” or what’s the best “x”. 

  • Qual è il tuo piatto preferito? – What’s your favorite dish? 
  • Qual è il miglior libro che tu abbia letto? – What’s the best book you have ever read? 
  • Qual è la migliore trattoria di Roma?  – What’s the best trattoria in Rome? 

Note that Qual? doesn’t need an apostrophe when comes before a vowel.   

Quale? v Quali?

When Quale is followed by a plural noun or the plural form of essere (sono=are), it becomes Quali?

  • Quali sono i tuoi film preferiti? – What are your favorite movies? 
  • Quali verdure compri di solito?  – What are your favorite veggies? 

In all of the preceding questions, the term Quale? refers to a limited number of options from which to choose. 

Quale/Qual/Quali can be replaced by Che? in a very slangy way of speaking Italian.

  • Che frutta compri? (slangy Italian) – What fruit are you buying?
  • Quale frutta compri? (good Italian) – What fruit are you buying?

Quale? = Which (one)?

Quale also means Which? when is followed by a noun or Which one? when followed by a verb 

  • Quale birra prendi? – Which beer are you getting? 
  • Quale prendi? – Which one do you get? 
  • Quale vuoi? – Which one do you want?

Quali? is the plural form of quali and it means which ones?.

About the Author

Serena Capilli

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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Ciao, I'm Serena!

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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